Reverberations of the past: towards a secure future for the Diaspora
I extend to you all my cordial greetings on the occasion of this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Bengaluru,
In fact, it was a proud moment for me to go up the dais to present the first Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card to the then PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh who in turn gifted it to the first OCI of India, an Indian-American from Chicago. The unseemly feat played out during the 2006 PBD at Hyderabad under the untiring efforts of the then Secretary to which all officers of the MOIA and a few from MEA and MHA ably contributed. Yet another unforgettable moment for me was to see the only woman Prime Minister of the Indian Diapora world, Mrs. Kamla Persad Bissessur, ride the stage to address the Jaipur PBD in 2010, even after I had taken a bow from the Ministry. Mrs. Bissessur is no longer in power but she would still recollect the wonderful moments she had spent during that trip in Jaipur, Kolkata (where she visited the Pravasi Memorial) and above all, in her native village in eastern Bihar, where it was hard for her to control her emotions!
A lot of water has flown down the Ganga since then. MOIA has lost its Ministerial identity, acquired amidst much hue and cry in my parent Ministry, and gone back to MEA from where it had started as the NRI Division, moving out from the rickety corridors of Law Bhavan opposite the Supreme Court to the refurbished Akbar Bhavan. Much has happened on the policy front as well, thanks to the vision of PM Modi to harness the strengths of the Diaspora with the support of the very able External Affairs Minister and her team in the Ministry. The PM’s forays into the Diasporic world have reaped unprecedented goodwill and brought a lot of visibility for the fledgling MOIA, increasing participation at every successive PBD as well as Diaspora-related events held in several states such as Gujarat, Kerala, AP, Bihar, Rajasthan, UP, Haryana, Maharashtra and a few others.
Even my own state, the least visible of the lot, has boasted of a recent, well-organised event, ‘Make in Odisha’, which officially saw several thousand footfalls and millions worth of Statements of Intent signed, bringing in a substantial presence of the Odia Diaspora. In this context, the efforts of the Delhi-based Odisha Forum in organising the first ever Odia Diaspora meet around the same time as the Bangaluru PBD are laudable. That would go to supplement the work done by the Pravasi Odia cell at the Odisha Nivas. Along with the long-awaited Pravasi Bhavan in Chanakyapuri - and I recall how arduous it had been to find a suitable plot of land for the building in the coveted quarters of Delhi - this would give further fillip to the Government’s efforts in reaching out to the Diaspora. Besides local bodies such as the Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad (ARSP), who have also been active in this field, could be further tapped. Major overseas Diaspora associations should also be periodically consulted and their views taken on board. This will go towards establishing a good rapport between the Government and the Diaspora.
All this bodes well for India’s relation with her Diaspora. The merging of the OCI and PIO cards has been a good augury and has been well received by the overseas Indian community though its ramifications are still to be properly fleshed out through active advocacy. The role of the Indian Missions in executing the ongoing policies towards the Diaspora, which are sure to evolve over the coming days, are supremely important, as they are at the implementation end. With MOIA having merged into MEA as a Division, there should be no ambiguity any longer in policy planning and execution. Constraints such as staff shortage are to be borne with, if the greater task of reaping advantages from India’s linkages with her Diaspora is to be evinced.